Table of Contents, Speaking Off the Cuff Resources Page Previous Section, Speaking Off the Cuff Next Section, Speaking Off the Cuff

29. Rallying the Troops

You can't think and hit at the same time.

—Yogi Berra

One of the most quoted and beloved baseball managers of all time went on to say, "if you ask me, this is true with any sport. I said it in 1946 when I was with the Newark Bears playing Triple A ball. My manager told me not to swing at balls out of the strike zone. He said, 'Yogi, next time you're up, think about what you're doing.' I struck out in three pitches."

Up to Bat

When speaking to audiences of your peers and reports, what you have to say should be second nature when you get up to bat. It's what you know and what you do all the time.

One Little League baseball coach whose day job is managing a division at a giant aerospace company had to address his direct reports on a change in direction. The human resources director who hired Ready for Media to coach this division head explained that the executive was in too high a position to just "talk to the slides." She directed us to coach him in sharing the company's vision with a sense of fun and passion.

In exploring the executive's interests, hobbies, and passions, we learned that Yogi Berra was one of his all-time heroes. He, like many, loves this baseball legend for the plain wisdom of his one-of-a-kind observations. Yogisms are a different language. Funny. Profound. Poignant.

Sports are so analogous to business and for most of us, games we like to watch or pick up on weekends. So, choose your favorite sport and you will find wisdom in it for your own team.

UCLA's winningest basketball coach, John Wooden, motivated his championship teams with, "Be quick but don't hurry." And football great Vince Lombardi said in a 1962 interview that "winning isn't everything but wanting to win is." This was homogenized into the reported battle cry for rallying the troops, "Winning isn't everything, it's the only thing."

Our aerospace manager used Yogi's pronouncement that the future ain't what it used to be in one address to new hires. "When you come to a fork in the road, take it" became the theme for a briefing to design engineers. And he quoted the time when Yogi was asked what time it is, Yogi asked, "You mean now?" in a speech titled, "The Time Is Now."

This aerospace guru told me in a follow-up call that he uses Yogisms in his everyday leadership practice as well, "Once when Yogi was asked, 'What makes a good manager?' he said, 'Good players.'"

With a little coaching, our manager (also known as "Coach" to his Little Leaguers) found a similar and unique role in the workplace. Now he is as legendary on his professional playing field for always citing the appropriate wisdom of a Yogism.

Batting Practice

An exercise I often do with clients is to first ask them to stand up and record on tape two minutes about their job or some aspect of it. Then, without sitting down, to do another two minutes on their favorite subject. The subjects vary from their kids to golf to boating to volunteer work to a stamp collection. The list is endless. But the reaction is always the same. Almost without exception, when speaking about the job where they spend the majority of their waking hours, they are wooden, monotone and uninspiring. When they get to passions, they become animated with gestures, eye contact, and a lively, conversational tone. Suddenly, the mission seems to be convincingly clear: to share the music of their lives.

Picasso said, "To draw is to close your eyes and dance." What music are you dancing to? Your job, as a communicator, is merely to transfer the passion and music of your life into the expression of your work or project or subject. It is, after all, your life's work, your contribution to society. Your job, since you've chosen to accept it, probably holds within it your leadership potential and possibility.

As communications coaches, my team and I are merely holding up a mirror to reflect your expressions. By helping you find passion once again for the work you do and express it, your business briefings and speeches will become much more exciting and inspirational. Bottom line, don't seek to inform, seek to motivate and inspire.

Find the Time

An entertainment executive was so jammed at work that he had gotten into a bad habit of keeping his staff waiting until the last minute to write his speeches, nevermind practicing. With only hours until the event, panic prevailed until he walked on stage and read his staff's much too detailed, nuts and bolts account of the new season, without sharing the vision or passion that was making them the leading network. Everyone was disappointed, not the least of which was he.

Finally, his staff coerced him into finding three hours on each of several Sunday afternoons at his house to let us work. His staff attended as well. The prospect of his sharing the vision that made him a great leader was worth missing a pro football game or two. Their willingness to give up weekend time impressed him not only with their dedication but that he may have something important to say, after all.

Weeks in advance, we began facilitating the communication between the executive and his staff of: Who the audience is, why this is important to them, what they need and want to know from him and his vision, and how he will get their attention. Once this TV mogul grasped the economies of scale that a focused and passionate 20-minute presentation followed by Q&A could ignite the imaginations of hundreds in his audience, he finds the time, every time.

The Medium Is the Message

There's an old saying in the newspaper trade that good news is no news. But Shakespeare more accurately reflected the reality of corporate suites, "Though it be honest, it is never good to bring bad news." Still, news is a fact of business life, and when you must deliver it, choosing the delivery system is as important as crafting what you will say.

The new president of a giant insurance company made that mistake when he sent a cold and stiff "talking head" videotape of himself to the 10,000 employees in the worldwide branches of his company. Every screening room was silent after the CEO's announcement that his restructuring plans would include more or less significant layoffs. There was little the regional managers could do or say after that bomb was dropped.

A perhaps much more appropriate communications tool was the live 25-city interactive, satellite media tour one of our clients used in a similar situation. Our CEO explained compassionately that he would have preferred being with each group in person but that in order to reach all his employees simultaneously with this difficult news, he had chosen this venue. The manager at each location proctored live audience questions for the CEO about the restructuring until every one was answered over the following two hours.

If you do decide to have an interactive, multi-city satellite tour, make sure that every detail is checked and rechecked. Never is it more true that you only get one chance to make a good first impression than on a live satellite broadcast.

We once reported to the Wall Street Journal the true story of one CEO, not wanting to mar the front of his $200 tie, who pinned the lavaliere microphone the technician had handed him on the back of the tie. For the first three minutes of his announcement, his lips moved but no sound was heard. He began again after a behind-the-scenes executive decision was made for a technician to reach into the shot and re-position the microphone to the outside of his lapel. To this day, the CEO hasn't lived it down.

Table of Contents, Speaking Off the Cuff Resources Page Previous Section, Speaking Off the Cuff Next Section, Speaking Off the Cuff